Tue, Dec 02, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Thai, Malaysian leaders discuss rebel peace talks

AFP, KUALA LUMPUR

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and his counterpart in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, yesterday discussed prospects for restarting stalled peace talks aimed at ending southern Thailand’s deadly Muslim insurgency, officials said.

Prayut arrived in Malaysia yesterday morning for a short visit — his first to Thailand’s southern neighbor since the former military leader seized power in a May coup.

His regime has indicated it favors restarting the Malaysia-hosted peace talks between Thailand and Muslim rebels that began under the previous Thai government led by former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The visit by Prayut, who was named prime minister by the military junta in August, was mainly intended as a formal introduction to Thailand’s neighbor, a Malaysian official said on condition of anonymity. However, the official said the two leaders also discussed the peace talks, saying that these were “high on the agenda.”

The meeting was a first step in what is expected to be a lengthy process toward re-engaging with the shadowy insurgent groups, the official added.

Last year’s dialogue made little headway and eventually collapsed as Yingluck’s government became engulfed by a political crisis that ultimately led to the coup.

Prospects for a quick resumption now look slim following deadly post-coup militant attacks in southern Thailand and a subsequent fresh security crackdown.

Buddhist Thailand colonized its predominantly Muslim deep south more than a century ago, and insurgencies have repeatedly flared.

More than 6,000 people have been killed or wounded during the current decade-long conflict. Most have been civilians.

Muslim-majority Malaysia — where some insurgent leaders are believed to be holed up — hosted several rounds of secretive peace talks last year between Thai officials and representatives of one of the region’s rebel groups.

However, it remains unclear whether the rebel negotiators speak for any of the other groups involved in the insurgency.

Rights organizations accuse Thai authorities of human rights abuses — including extrajudicial killings — in the country’s south and of sweeping aside the area’s distinct local culture through forced assimilation projects.

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